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Kean University's "Broadway Babies" Join Hairspray Stars on Stage

originally published: 04/18/2024

Kean University

Kean University theatre students performed at Enlow Recital Hall with Broadway superstars Laura Bell Bundy, Marissa Jaret Winokur and Kerry Butler (center, l-r). Photo Credit: Kean University

(UNION, NJ) -- A group of eight Kean University theatre students shared the stage with Broadway powerhouses recently, singing backup on five songs for the original stars of Hairspray at Kean's Enlow Recital Hall.

The students, unofficially dubbed Kean’s “Broadway Babies” for their theatre aspirations, joined Tony Award-winner Marissa Jaret Winokur and Tony nominees Kerry Butler and Laura Bell Bundy in their concert, Mama I’m a Big Girl Now!, at Kean Stage on Friday, April 12. The three stars, who played Tracy Turnblad, Penny Pingleton and Amber Von Tussle, respectively, in the original Broadway production, reunited on stage for a concert revisiting their origins, careers, family and longstanding friendship.

“I was excited to sing with these people I idolize, but it was nerve-racking,” said graduating theatre performance student Brandon Luckenbaugh from Hillsborough, who was one of two Kean students who had a solo, singing Link Larkin’s harmony in You Can’t Stop the Beat. “It was a whole new lesson in going out there and doing it. I’m so proud of all of us.”

Christian MontLouis, a sophomore theatre performance student from Woodbridge, took the other male harmony, singing the part of Seaweed J. Stubbs.

“It was fun. I love the song, and I know the Seaweed parts,” he said. “I was thinking if I could sing the solo, that would be really great. And then they chose me. Yay!”

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Kean’s Broadway Babies also sang backup on the iconic Hairspray tunes Good Morning BaltimoreI Can Hear the Bells and MamaI’m a Big Girl Now, as well as So Much Better from Legally Blonde.

During the ensemble numbers, the students energized the room and impressed both the audience and the headliners.

“We want to bring them to every concert,” Butler said. “It took our concert up to the next level. They did amazing, and we loved, loved having them there.”

Winokur echoed Butler’s praise.

“Honestly, it was my favorite concert so far, because they really brought energy and youth,” said Winokur. “They were such a treat.”

The students had two weeks to learn the music with their professors at the Kean Theatre Conservatory and found little time to rehearse as a group because of conflicting schedules.

“They had four hours to rehearse together and memorize the five pieces of music in four-part harmony. They really stepped up,” said Professor Holly Logue.

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The students also worked with Winokur, Butler and Bundy at the dress rehearsal the day of the show.

“It was really reassuring watching them,” said Riv Dabul, a graduating theatre and music performance student from South Plainfield. “They're human, and we're human, so maybe we can do what these humans are doing. And they were really encouraging, which made us better.”

The concert was the latest opportunity for Kean performance students to share the stage with Broadway superstars. In past concerts, Kean students sang with Tony winners Alex Newell, Kelli O’Hara and  Patti LuPone, and other well-known singers.

“What an amazing opportunity for our students,” said Steve Cochran, manager of Kean Stage. “The chance to collaborate onstage with these distinguished performers is unparalleled. Events like these guide and prepare the students for their future careers.”

Jade Ayala, a junior theatre performance student from Camden, sang previously with Alex Newell, but said the Hairspray concert still brought chills.

“For someone who’s aspiring to perform on Broadway, it’s so valuable,” she said. “We have the opportunity to see what it's like behind the scenes and speak with these Broadway stars. It's such an amazing opportunity to perform with them.”

Kean University, New Jersey’s urban research university, is a national institution of higher education recognized for its diversity, innovation and the social mobility of its graduates. Founded in 1855 as a teachers college, Kean has evolved into a thriving research university that supports students as they persist to graduation, give back to their communities and launch successful careers. Kean’s six colleges offer more than 50 undergraduate programs, six doctoral degree programs and more than 70 options leading to master’s degrees, professional diplomas or certifications, across a full range of academic subjects. With campuses in Union, Toms River and Manahawkin, New Jersey, and Wenzhou, China, as well as Kean Online, the University provides students of all backgrounds an affordable and accessible world-class education.



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